By Bernie Bell
Pics by B&M Bell
In our garden, we have two areas which we set aside for trees. The trees aren’t very big yet – this is Orkney and growing trees takes patience, and even some Stoicism. https://theorkneynews.scot/2018/03/19/the-triumph-of-optimism-over-experience-or-attempting-to-grow-trees-in-orkney/
In the corner of one of these areas, is a sizeable Balfour Willow, a sizeable Bay Willow, a small Poplar, and a small Bay Willow. The smaller of the Bay Willows, is where we saw the Poplar Hawk Moths, mating. https://theorkneynews.scot/2020/06/19/poplar-hawk-moths-getting-fresh/
About this time last year, the small Poplar was in full leaf, looking fresh, green, lively and luscious. I noticed an interesting caterpillar on it, and took a picture…
Next day the Poplar was stripped bare – not a leaf left on it. And the caterpillar was there, stretched out along a twig, replete. A Happy Caterpillar.
I said the leaves looked luscious – they obviously did, to the Pebble Prominent Moth caterpillar. Like the Poplar Hawk Moth, the Pebble Prominent caterpillar also pupates just below the surface of the earth, emerges, eats etc. etc.
The other extra-ordinary looking caterpillar we have seen in our garden, is the caterpillar of the Puss Moth. It’s big, fat, bright green, with a bright pink head!
We first saw one of these a few years ago, and have seen several, since.
Unlike the Poplar Hawk and the Pebble Prominent Moth, the Puss Moth Caterpillar attaches its chrysalis to the trunk or a limb of the tree the caterpillar was feeding on – or, anything else nearby. Last year, we found a strange encrustation on one of the poles supporting one of our little trees. We left it alone, observed it, then, there was a hole in it, and it was empty. The moth had flown – maybe a Puss Moth?
If you’re wondering where I go my information about moths from, it’s ‘The Moths of the British Isles’ by Richard South F.R.E.S. , from which I’ll quote re. the Puss Moth Caterpillar…..
“When the creature assumes the position which Professor Poulton terms the terrifying attitude, the front part is elevated, the head is drawn back into the ring next to it, and the tails are raised and curved forward over the back. Seen thus from the front the appearance of the caterpillar is certainly grotesque, and no doubt affords it some protection from its enemies”
Another survival technique – the moths of the Poplar Hawk Moth looked like dried-up leaves, whilst the Puss Moth caterpillar looks like a miniature dragon – imagine that, 60ft long, as the terror interest in an old Sci-Fi movie!
The reference book I used, belonged to Mike’s Grandfather, J. H. Bell, who wrote ‘Days With A Butterfly Net’, and ‘Methods Of Moth Collecting’. That was in the days when people caught them, killed them, and pinned them to a board.
We have an old butterfly net, which is mostly used for catching and releasing unwanted beasties which come into the house – including, twice, catching starlings which had come down neighbours chimneys! But that’s a different story…..